Friday, July 6, 2012

Tipo Colombia

Last week, I spent far too long in my small, domestic kitchen making 200 empanadas and 100 arepas, 2 foods that I have almost no experience at making. Why on earth would I do such a thing? That's a good freaking question, one I'm still asking myself, and the answer starts with that one day we were sitting around with our friend Gabriel and he said, not for the first time, that he was frustrated with the lack of latin culture in Rio and that he wanted to throw a big Colombian-style party before he finished his doctorate here. "We'll help you" we said. "Sure, I'll help with the publicity and the organization," said one friend. "Sure, I can do the music" said Felipe. "Sure, I can do the food," I said. (Stupid, stupid, stupid.) "Ok. I'm going to find somewhere to hold it," said Gabriel. And he did. And it was decided that it would be called "Rumba Tipo Colombia," a tongue-in-cheek reference to this wildly offensive (Brazilian, not at all related to the American style) funk song. And that is how I found myself trying out recipes for lechona (rice-stuffed roasted pig) and aborrajados and buying kilos and kilos of plantains and pig skin. We expected 200 people, and 400 showed up. Whoops. Guess who ran out of beer?
For round two, which went down last Friday, we found a bigger, better-equipped place. I learned the hard way that hand grinding corn for 200 empanadas sucks. But we didn't run out of beer, and the place had functioning air-conditioning and a sound system powerful enough to fill the very large hall.

This time, somehow, miraculously, we had over 500 people, and even were written up as part of a story in O Globo, the local newspaper, on latino parties in Rio de Janeiro (Brazilians don't consider themselves latino...which is a whole other post in itself). The story was a bit badly informed-- the title of the piece translates to "Dance Floors in Rio Open Up for Latin Music Other Than Salsa", even though both our event and one of the two other events cited are mostly salsa (Felipe plays with his salsa orchestra, a DJ puts on other music, this time we had a band playing Colombian folklore open)- but the sentiment is on point, that latin culture is beginning to make more of an appearance in Rio's night life, and of course the publicity is amazing and quite a bit flattering (given that we're a group of graduate students in the sciences...)

The thing about salsa in Rio is that although it's been around for awhile, it's not at all part of the mainstream culture, so it normally takes place within dance schools that teach highly choreographed routines and tend to hold exclusive events where students can show off their latest moves. Salsa at latin parties, on the other hand, tends to be of a very different tenor because everyone there grew up dancing it and people just want to have a good time. Everyone dances with everyone and people know how to share a packed dance floor, which means that the parties look very different than the typical school parties that tend to look more like a ballroom dance competition.

At any rate, I don't want to even look at the corn grinder, at least for a couple of weeks. We're doing another one July 20th for Colombian Independence Day, if you happen to be in Rio we'd love to have you join us! I'll be sharing the information here on the blog as soon as the new flyer is drawn up.

(credit where credit is due: all photos in this post by Oscar Gongora)


  1. Hi Eva,

    This sounds amazing - congratulations! So cool! Definitely post details - sounds like a lot of fun. I spent 4 wonderful, memorable months in Colombia (though you wouldn't know it from my non-existent salsa skills) and it would be great to have a reminder.

    Also, do you have a recipe for arepas? I LOVE those things. Like it's an obsession. I would love to be able to make my own.

  2. Thanks Tom! It´s been a trip haha, a little bit more than we bargained for but definitely fun. I have a recipe for arepas here:, you can make them with canjica and they come out great, but you do need a corn grinder (which isn´t hard to get, but, you know, it´s another piece of equipment that you may or may not want to have around your house)

  3. Great! I have one of those grinders already! I know what I'll be cooking this weekend!

    Not sure if this will work, but this link should show a video I took of the best arepas I ever had - from Santa Marta. Sooooo good! :)

  4. Wow that looks amazing, I don`t think I´ve ever had an arepa quite like that (another reason to go to Santa Marta!) If you make the arepas, let me know how they turn out! Just out of curiousity-- what do you normally use your grinder for (I only know it as the grinder for arepas...)?

  5. Heh heh - I *lived* one these things when I was in Santa Marta! :)

    I bought the grinder to grind up spices but it has been sitting unused in it's box for the last 6 months. Time to dust it off and try your recipe! I will definitely let you know how they turn out!